Catch-22

In the latest issue of Nature there is an article about a class of molecules that seems to extend the lifespan of yeast by down-regulating the p53 gene (a tumor suppressor) and blunting the trigger of apoptosis. (Whoopie for yeast!) It’s action mimics the life extending process that occurs with caloric restriction. The good news is that these chemicals occur in red wine. So instead of starving there’s the prospect that one could live long by enjoying a robust glass of Cabernet or Shiraz.

But there’s a hitch.


As Derek Lowe, author of a Corante weblog on drug discovery, points out, turning down apoptosis raises the possiblity of lowering a basic defense mechanism against cancer.

All the processes needed for cell division have the plastic explosive charge of apoptosis wired up to them, and if anything goes wrong, the ignition sequence is triggered and the cell dies. Or, at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. The way most cancer cells start their career is by evading this fall-on-your-sword programming, and their descendants never look back. Attaining longevity through better DNA and protein repair, through minimizing oxidative damage and so on – that’s presumably going to be benign. But attaining it through messing with the cell cycle could be a tricky business.”

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